Thursday, 31 July 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1997: Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce in L.A. Confidential

Russell Crowe did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Officer Wendell "Bud" White in L.A. Confidential.

L.A. Confidential is a masterful film about a three detectives as they investigate the mysterious spree of murders after the incarceration of the head of L.A.'s organized crime.

The first of the lead detectives that we meet is Bud White who brutally beats and busts a husband for beating his wife before going off to the Police station's Christmas party there he proceeds to go along with his thuggish partner to beat up some men accused of violently assaulting some of their fellows police officers leaving one with the impression that Bud is more of a violent thug than keeper of the peace. Russell Crowe was perfectly cast in the part as he has the needed physical presence to make Bud White an always imposing figure. Even more important though is Russell Crowe's incredible screen presence which makes Bud White, even when he is just beating a white beater, extremely compelling to watch. Although Crowe was not a star before this film it is very easy to see why that changed with this film. Crowe commands the screen here and even makes the early thuggish Bud White an interesting character.

Guy Pearce did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Det. Lt. Edmund "Ed" Exley in L.A. Confidential.

The second lead detective we meet in the film is that of Ed Exley played by Guy Pearce. Pearce, was also a fairly obscure name at the time, and although, for whatever reason, he did not become a star from this film it was definitely a breakout of sorts for him. Pearce in the opening is trying to run the police station where Bud and several other cops decide to beat up the suspects. Ed in this first also seems to be a very particularly man that being the straight forward cop who just wants to do things by the books, and refuses to break any of the laws while upholding the law. Pearce does not mind really playing Ed as the stiff he is, and does well to have it so there is a certain weakness in his attempt at command especially compared to Crowe's performance as Bud. A stiff also might seem like an uninteresting character particularly in the way we see Ed from the beginning, but Pearce also makes his character instantly watchable through his considerable charisma even in a part like this.

Both men and performances seems especially specific but this is all part of the brilliance of both the film and the work here by both actors. Shortly enough we learn that this initial view of the men truly is only the surface and we learn more about them. Bud, for example, does not just take on the occasional wife beater he seems to take on every one he hears about with an extreme prejudice. Crowe is excellent in his portrayal of Bud's reaction to any moment where violence against a woman is seen or even heard about. Crowe's portrays it as something very deep inside Bud as practically a psychotic burst of energy that drives the man. It is not just anger that Crowe shows in him as it is a primal force, but there is a righteousness about it that can be felt. Crowe brings, even in such a vicious intensity, that there is just as intense of an empathy that can be felt through his portrayal of Bud's behavior.

We don't instantly learn more about Ed, that's for a little later, but Pearce still excels in fleshing out the character. One particularly effective choice on Pearce's part is to show an immediate change in Ed since after the police brutality Ed choice to testify against his own officers ensuring himself a promotion to a higher ranking detective. Pearce very naturally brings out a greater command in his performance the moment Ed takes his new position. What Pearce does so well is show that Ed has in no one changed in the brief time from his first scene to this scene, but rather that there is very prideful, and even a certain smugness to Ed since he was only proven right in his dedication to his code. Pearce from this point carries Ed as a man with an unshakable confidence thanks to being vindicated, and it absolutely works in creating Ed, at least at first, as this sort of wall of justice so strong that it seems nothing can break through it.

Pearce and Crowe are both exceptional in portraying the officers differing styles in enforcing the laws through the performance, particularly when they both go to take down some men accused of committing a massacre. Both show a great precision in their performances although in very different fashions. Crowe, when Bud goes to infiltrate their hideout early to be able to kill the culprit rather than take him in, moves with a controlled passion. Crowe is terrific because he is able to, in complete silence, suggest both the extreme hatred behind Bud's eyes yet still in a completely controlled fashion fitting for a detective who's doing his duty in a professional way, well a professional way of sorts anyway. Pearce is a little different though as Ed seems to value brains over brawn which can be seen when he interrogates the men.

Pearce is fantastic in the interrogation scene showing in vivid detail Ed's method as he confuses each man to be able to derive the confessions he wants. Pearce carries the whole side with a considerable cool and completely shows Ed Exley in his element as a detective. Pearce portrays the different methods so flawlessly form his subtle constant intimating tone, but as well through a slightly casual manner about his method as well. Pearce almost weaves the scene as if he is putting on a magic show and just handles the scene beautifully. He commands and control every moment just up until the point in which Bud White literally crashes through into the interrogation room. When Ed gets almost everything he wants out of them in his confession you absolutely believe it because Pearce realizes it so incredibly well. It's just some marvelous work by Pearce, and easily one of the highlights of this performance.

After the take down of the men the two detectives either change or more is revealed about themselves. Bud White's revelations mostly come in through his relationship with a high class prostitute Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) a Veronica Lake look a like. Although my liking of Basinger's performance, which I already found  not particularly special, has lessened even more Crowe's performance in these scenes is outstanding. He begins it simple enough as he acts like the tough cop pushing forward the idea of masculinity as it pertains to his general toughness. What is so amazing about what Crowe does is peel that back and reveal the much more honest Bud under his tough exterior. When Bud finally does ask her out there is such a genuine vulnerability in the moment. Crowe does not over do it, but he gives us just the right glimmer of who Bud really. In the subsequent scenes with Basinger Crowe is extremely effective as he so honestly removes the intensity to reveal Bud as a man traumatized by his youth, and rather wounded by the way he is only used as a thug.

Pearce is not one to be outshone though and stays equally as compelling as Crowe as we see Ed as he begins to see that there are some compromises that he must make if he's going to be able to catch all the criminals. Pearce is such a great actor in portraying the reactionary change of a character with very little dialogue to convey. The film never stops to have Ed explain or even stop to talk about the fact that he's going to bending some rules. This is almost a wordless transformation and thankfully Pearce is on hand since he's pretty much an expert at this. Pearce is basically flawless as he slowly shows Ed lose his own crafted exterior a bit, and loses that smugness from before. It is not that Pearce shows Ed to become less of an officer, rather Pearce effortlessly portrays the way the realities of the cop naturally set in on Ed. When Ed makes the decision to kill the suspects it's quick and to the point, but given quite the power through Pearce's expression which shows what's going in Ed's mind at the time.

One of my favorite scenes with Pearce's portrayal of Exley's loss of veneer as he confronts Lynn over her affair with Bud only to learn that it is legit. Pearce is pitch perfect in the scene as he shows a visible effort in Ed as he tightens his jaw and keeps glare to try to show as if Ed is just as manly as the Bud. Pearce creates just enough of a childish notion in Ed's behavior that when he as sex with Bracken, it is basically his faulty attempt to out man Bud. To be fair to old Ed, it's not all about a loss of veneer as seen in an important scene with the other detective of the film Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey). Ed tells Jack why he became a cop in the first place which was to catch the idea of the man who killed his own father, who was also a cop. Although some of his moral statements might have had slight pomposity earlier none of that can be found in this scene. Pearce brings the needed poignancy to the moment as he reveals exactly what has driven Ed from the very beginning.

Despite both Pearce and Crowe being the leads of the film they actually don't interact all that much, until the third act. The wait is well worth it though as Crowe and Pearce play off each other impeccably well. The interesting thing is they manage to both have no chemistry and a lot of chemistry at the same time. On one hand their differing styles stay firmly in place and it is wonderful to see Crowe and Pearce handle every scene with the controlled Ed and the emotional Bud. They overlap and under lap in the scenes and it is really something watch. They also do have such a chemistry they form as the characters finally understand that both of them are, despite their differences, trying to do the right thing. It is an unspoken truth about the two and that is best shown by their final scene together where one of them isn't even allowed to speak. Crowe and Pearce create the connection though so even though you don't know what both of them are saying, you understand exactly what it means.

Despite the strength of their performances, and the fact that the film definitely had support neither Peace nor Crowe managed to garner any support from the Academy for this film. Although the academy should be blamed a bit for recognizing perhaps the weakest performance in the film while ignoring every other performance in the film somehow, technically so should many other awards bodies who did exactly the same thing. It's a shame though because Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe create one of the all time great screen duos in this film. Both manage to individually fully realize their characters not as simple archetypes, as they might appear in the opening scenes of the film, but rather as truly complex men. Their dynamic together carries this film to the incredible heights that it achieves. These simply are two great performances from two great actors.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Would you say this is Crowe's best performance you've seen? Also what're your top 10 movie screen duos, ans do Poitier and Steiger in In the Heat of the Night make the cut?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Couldn't agree more. Are Cromwell and Spacey guaranteed to be review for supporting?

mcofra7 said...

Do you prefer Guy Pearce's work in this film or in Memento?

Michael Patison said...

Robert: They better be, considering they're by top 2 for the year.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Same here. I hope Billy Zane's review will be off to the side as a bonus review, because I requested him assuming that would happen.

Anonymous said...

So, Basinger is now a 2.5? I thought that she was actually pretty good and quite underrated. By the way, this is a terrific review and I agree that both Pearce and Crowe were great.

Matt Mustin said...

This is a great review and it made me want to go back and rewatch the film to study their performances.

Anonymous said...

What are your ratings and thoughts on Jane Fonda in Julia, Coming Home e The China Syndrome?

Deiner said...

Unfortunately I haven't seen L.A. Confidential yet, but I'm certainly really looking forward it after reading this. Great job!

Kevin said...

What are your ratings and thoughts on David Straitharn and Danny Devito?

Also, has anyone seen Guardians of the Galaxy?

Michael McCarthy said...

I have, it's in my top 5 for the year so far.

Kevin said...

@Michael, where would you rank it among Marvel's films thus far?

Anonymous said...

Just saw The Expendables 3, the copy that was leaked online. I was so pissed off watching it. The only thing remotely enjoyable about the previous 2 were the over-the-top action scenes and the violence. Now the PG-13 rating has removed them.

It was infuriating, even more so than Amazing Spiderman 2

Anonymous said...

Who are your ten favorite actresses Louis?

Michael McCarthy said...

@Kevin I'd put it just behind The Avengers and Iron Man, although I still haven't seen The Winter Soldier.

Michael Patison said...

I've also seen Guardians of the Galaxy. It's fun but is rather flawed at points.

Michael McCarthy said...

@Michael What were your critiques? There were several instances where I thought the dialogue was poor, and I thought the guardians changed too quickly from hating each other to working together early on.

Michael McCarthy said...

I should also add that I thought all of the characters other than the guardians were pretty two-dimensional.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous: Yes this is Crowe's best.

As for the duos (I'll stick just to the men):

1. F. Murray Abraham & Tom Hulce - Amadeus

2. William Hurt & Raul Julia - Kiss of the Spider Woman

3. Brendan Gleeson & Colin Farrell - In Bruges

4. Russell Crowe & Guy Pearce - L.A. Confidential

5. John Turturro & John Goodman - Barton Fink

6. Joaquin Phoenix & Philip Seymour Hoffman - The Master

7. Michael Caine & Sean Connery - The Man Who Would Be King

8. Toshiro Mifune & Takashi Shimura - Drunken Angel and Stray Dog(I'll cheat)

9. Michael J. Fox & Christopher Lloyd - Back to the Future

10. Rod Steiger & Sidney Poitier - In The Heat of the Night

Robert:

Most definitely.

mcofra7:

I'd say I prefer him in Memento ever so slightly.

Anonymous:

Julia - 4(I rather like her here, although I think the film's strange nature does kinda leave her performance in a strange place. Since the film never decides whether it wants to be about an artist or an espionage thriller. Therefore just when you might think she is getting down deep into what makes Lillian Hellman as a person and writer she has to quickly switch to the quiet lead of a thriller. Fonda does both sides pretty well actually, but because of that she only can give a good performance in both cases not a great one)

Coming Home - 3(There's nothing wrong with this performance. It's a painfully simple role to begin with. I thought she does well enough in those confines bringing enough warmth, although never does her performance becomes that good. Her chemistry with Voight is okay but not anything truly special)

The China Syndrome - 3.5(A very simple role once again and the show is all about Jack Lemmon. She almost is only there for exposition and reaction to exposition. Within those confines she is very solid though and leads the film, when Lemmon's not on screen, well enough)

Kevin:

Straitharn - 3.5(He does not have much screen time, but he does well with the little he has. He crates the mismatch of a classy sleaze with his character. He speaks right and acts correctly but Straitharn always manages to give the vibe that he is only one step away from being a pimp)

Danny Devito - 4(Devito's particular style of acting works perfectly for the sleazy tabloid journalist who purposefully likes to make a scene. Devito does the obvious surface sleaze entertainingly, but he effectively alludes to a certain darker purpose in his character)

Anonymous:

1. Sissy Spacek
2. Joan Fontaine
3. Sigourney Weaver
4. Geraldine Page
5. Faye Dunaway
6. Maggie Smith
7. Naomi Watts
8. Holly Hunter
9. Shelley Winters
10. Teresa Wright

luke higham said...

Louis: When's the next review.

Michael Patison said...

@Michael: Those were pretty much my issues with it too. The dialogue was lacking too often, though I didn't much mind how quickly they changed to liking each other. I thought the story wasn't compelling enough, which would have been far more noticeable if the movie had been following the typical superhero formula others typically do. There was too much unnecessary world-building, which I think was possibly the dialogue's weakest point.

Anonymous said...

Louis, out of the nominated female performances ever you've seen, what are the ones that would get a 1 or a 1.5?

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: I'm working on it presently.

Anonymous:

Mary Pickford - Coquette
Bette Davis - Mr. Skeffington
Margaret Wycherly - Sergeant York
Joan Lorring - The Corn is Green
Anne Revere - Gentleman's Agreement
Gloria Grahame - The Bad and the Beautiful
Leslie Browne - The Turning Point
Quinn Cummings - The Goodbye Girl



luke higham said...

Louis: Unless you haven't rewatched these performances yet, can I have your ratings & thoughts on Leonardo Dicaprio in Titanic, Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown & Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights.

Anonymous said...

Can I have your thoughts and ratings (1 or 1.5) of the performance you've listed except for Grahame and Pickford? Surprised by the inclusion of Browne, Cummings (which is the pick of some people even), Revere (who I thought was actually fine in that) and Davis.

Louis Morgan said...

Davis - 1.5(All of her worst tendencies as an actress all rolled up into a single overwrought performance. Everything is so off about this performance that it almost seems like it's suppose to be comedic, but the tone of the film obviously shows that it isn't)

Wycherly - 1.5(Her dead eyed coldness actually worked as Cagney's mother in Dead Heat. Here though she's suppose to be a supportive mother and just is so horribly lifeless)

Lorring - 1.5(One of those terrible performances that is so perfectly bland yet never fails to be over the top either)

Anne Revere - 1.5(This is kind of my qualifying 1.5 for her as I think it's her worst nomination kind of. The problem is she is one actress that I have only ever seen one performance from her and I've seen several performances from her. She always plays motherly characters in the same oddly cold, even though the character's not, unemotional fashion)

Leslie Browne - 1(She was obviously there for her dancing prowess not her acting. She's bland, false and horrible forgettable. The only part I can even remember well about her performance is that she danced, and because of the way the film depicted that, I still did not find that very memorable either)

Quinn Cummings - 1.5(For me she's just the bad kind of precocious kid acting. All of her deliveries do have emotion but they are always with that overly rehearsed quality to them)

Matt Mustin said...

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy and I have to say that I loved it. The cast is excellent.

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, what are your thoughts/ratings on the two ladies in The Turning Point, and Mason in The Goodbye Girl?

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, at the moment, if you can say without spoiling a possible review, who's your pick for Best Supporting Actor so far this year. Honestly, you won't believe this, but mine's probably Bradley Cooper in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight are not on your all-time greatest duos.

Anonymous said...

What are your ratings and thoughts on Bette Davis in "Whatever happened to Baby Jane?" And I know you gave a five to Lee Remick but what are your thoughts on her in "Days of Wine and Roses"?

Anonymous said...

What are your ratings and thoughts on Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun? I think that she deserves a lower rating than 2, she was pretty bad in that.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

MacLaine & Bancroft - 2.5(Out of the two I prefer Bancroft, but to be honest they are two very forgettable performances from them. Unlike their less experiences co-stars, I don't think either of them are bad, but they really just don't have much to work with. The biggest thing I really remember about their performances is their cat fight)

Mason - 3.5(Mason does have a tendency to seem a bit too look at me in her performances, and not in a good way always. Nevertheless I do find her pretty charming her and I thought she had some pretty strong chemistry with Dreyfuss)

Matt: At the moment it's probably F. Murray Abraham.

Anonymous: In retrospect I probably should have included them. I always seem to miss out on at least one when I do lists.

Anonyomus:

Davis - 4(She's pretty over the top here but unlike in Mr. Skeffington it works quite well for her character. She's entertaining in her evil scenes and even moving in her depressed sequences. I don't think she quite mends the two perfectly but it's a pretty good performance from her)

Remick - (She compliments Jack Lemmon's harrowing performance perfectly. They first have a believable chemistry as the two are just falling in love and they are extremely effective as they show the two slowly moving into the decay. Remick is wise to never try to show up Lemmon instead she shows the way her character's addiction takes her into a more introverted path of self destruction whereas Lemmon's went the way of an extreme extroversion)

Anonymous:

Jones - 1.5(Well going down the list of nominees I must have missed her. This is a great example of someone trying to break out of their type and failing miserably. Jones's, known for her roles as "pure" women, seems completely out of her element, in more ways than one, as the Mexican ball of fire. It is almost impossible to believe in the role, and it is even harder to believe her as she's attempts the character's arc)